How The Daughter Of ‘The Muppets’ Creator Produced ‘Yo Soy Taíno’ A Film About Boricua Strength
The devastation that Hurricane Maria left in her wake in Puerto Rico continues to affect the lives of the residents, many still recovering from the lack of access to basic necessities. The death toll was estimated to be more than 4,000 and the island remains vulnerable since the 2017 ravaging but the lack of assistance from the U.S. led director and animator Alba García to work on a project to elevate Puerto Ricans and Taíno culture.
She’d been approached about the project by Heather Henson, owner of IBEX Puppetry which showcases the art of puppetry, and daughter of famed puppeteer and creator of The Muppets, Jim Henson.
After Hurricane Maria and seeing the devastation while visiting her family, she knew she needed to take the project on and Yo Soy Taino (I Am Taíno or Dak’toká Taíno) was born.
“I was devastated for my Puerto Rico, the land where I grew up, and the land I love Suddenly, it dawned on me that Puerto Rico wasn’t getting enough attention, that food and other necessities weren’t arriving to remote areas. I knew then that something was very wrong. I saw that most of the help we weren’t getting was due greatly because of our colonial status and old laws that keep Puerto Rico subdued,” García wrote on the Indiegogo page for the project.
Though her previous experience is primarily in stop-motion animation, Garcia’s collaboration with Henson meant she’d be able to represent her culture in a new format through puppets.
The 13-minute informative short film premiered on HBO Latino July 1 and features dialogue in both Spanish and Taíno. It centers around an exchange between Abuela Yaya, a Puerto Rican grandma voiced by Amneris Morales, and her 10-year-old granddaughter Marabelí, voiced by Vianez Morales after Hurricane Maria.
Their discussion turns into a teaching moment where Abuela Yaya introduces Marabelí to the Taíno language and explains the multiracial heritage of Puerto Ricans which is a mix of Taíno, Spanish, and African.
“Our desire is to inspire a revival of the Taíno culture and restoration of our Taíno Borikenaíki ancestral language as our ultimate goal,” García wrote.
To prepare for the film and to ensure authenticity she worked with Anthropologist Dr. Yarey Melendez, founder of the Naguake schools in Puerto Rico, who currently teaches a restored version of the Taíno language.
Also, Luis Ramos a Taíno Community leader, a Bohike (Taíno Healer) and Activist of Naguake community.
To ease the young girl’s fears after Hurricane Maria, the abuela recounts how their Taíno ancestors survived colonization and the problematic relationship with the U.S., with sentiments strongly in favor of independence.
Though Puerto Rico is recognized as a U.S. territory, it was an independent nation in 1897 when Spain approved the Constitución Autonómica. But by mid-1898 the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico after declaring war on Spain and it marked the transference of dominion.
The U.S. failed to properly assist the island after the hurricane, leaving many areas without power for months despite Puerto Rico’s governor’s request for federal assistance.
“Our story needs to be told especially now because our people are dying and some remote areas still don’t have water or power,” she writes.
“We Boricuas won’t go away. We will rise,” Yaya says in the film.